A former U.S. State Department analyst says it’s possible for North Korea to test a nuclear weapon by the end of this year.

In an interview with Japan’s Yomiuri Shimbun, Kenneth Quinones said the view of such a timetable is shared by officials in the Bush administration.

“It is possible for North Korea to have a nuclear weapon by December,” he told the paper. “It is possible they’ll have a test by December. There is nothing to stop North Korea from doing this.”

Quinones was a diplomat in the Clinton administration, and took part in talks that led to the 1994 agreement to freeze the North’s nuclear program in a swap for light-water reactors for power generation and heavy fuel aid.

He is now Korean affairs director at the International Center, a private think-tank based in Washington.

“To the best of my knowledge, based on very well-informed Washington sources, North Korea’s nuclear program is moving ahead very quickly,” he told the paper. “Basically, this means North Korea reprocessing is almost finished, or has finished. This means North Korea now has enough plutonium to make six to 10 nuclear weapons.”

Quinones says the communist country has several options, with two kinds of bomb to possibly produce.

“One is the HEU – highly enriched uranium bomb,” he told the Yomiuri. “I now understand that it takes a long time, maybe two or three years, to make enough HEU to make one nuclear weapon. So it’s not possible now for North Korea to make that kind of bomb.

“On the other hand, you only need two or three kilograms of plutonium to make a nuclear weapon. They have that. It is possible that they have that technology. And it is widely known technology.”

Production of atomic weaponry is one thing, but delivery is another, and that’s been a problem for North Korea, says Quinones.

“It is impossible for North Korea to have nuclear warheads. The technology is too sophisticated. They do not have that technology. However, it is possible to deliver a large nuclear weapon using a ship.”

He adds if any test does take place, Pyongyang will want Washington to know about it.

“They want to frighten us,” he said. “To make us negotiate with them.”

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